Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 22
Teachers' Unions Spend Big, Mostly Fall Short in Elections
By Daarel Burnette II
Over the last eight years, Republican-dominated statehouses and a
White House bent on accountability
dealt teachers' unions a wave of setbacks on their key issues, whittling
away at bargaining rights, instituting
merit pay, expanding charter school
and choice programs, and making
budget cuts leading to teacher layoffs.
So this campaign season, the American Federation of Teachers and the
National Education Association bolted
out the gate early with presidential
endorsements, a flood of campaign
spending on high-priority races and
ballot measures, and plenty of organizational muscle to push their agendas.
But with a few notable exceptions,
they came up dry.
Donald Trump, an unpredictable
Republican who has expressed support
for school choice and merit pay, will
reside in the White House next year.
GOP legislators and governors
consolidated power in the South and
crept into storied union states such as
Connecticut and Kentucky.
And voters soundly rejected a ballot
measure in Oregon that would have
provided millions more dollars to
public schools-an effort on which the
NEA spent more than $150,000-as
well as a ballot measure in Oklahoma
that would've provided teachers with
a $5,000 pay raise.
Teachers' unions will likely feel the
political reverberations for years.
"It's very disappointing," AFT
President Randi Weingarten said in
an interview after the results were
announced. "When you are all in
on anything and you lose, it's heartbreaking." But, she added, "you brush
yourself off and pull yourself back together again."
Said Lily Eskelsen García, the
president of the NEA, in a statement
the day after Election Day: "We must
realize that today is not the end but
the beginning of what we do to keep
our country strong for our children. ...
Don't mourn. Organize."
more than $950,000 into presidentialcampaign ads in Ohio and Florida,
two swing states. And they spent a
record $28 million to push their statelevel preferences in everything from
ballot initiatives to legislative races,
FEC filings show.
There were some bright spots.
Using more than $16 million collected
from their members, unions managed
to help defeat two well-funded campaigns. One in Georgia would have let
Helping the Affiliates
Federal Election Commission filings show that the NEA's national
office routed more than $21.9 million
through its local affiliates' PACs in
campaign contributions through the
third quarter of this year's reporting
cycle, ending Sept. 30. The AFT spent
more than $10.3 million through the
Of the more than 18,000 superPACs in the country, the NEA's was
the 10th largest spender in campaign
contributions this year, and the AFT's
was the 28th largest.
In addition, the NEA and the AFT
this year for the first time joined forces
with the AFL-CIO and the American
Council of State, County and Union
Employees to create a super-PAC
called For Our Future PAC, which
accepts philanthropic money. That super-PAC spent more than $32 million
on state and federal races this year.
Together, the two national teachers'
unions, which both endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary
Clinton, dispatched more than
160,000 foot soldiers to staff phone
banks and to canvass. They poured
When you are all in on
anything and you lose,
it's heartbreaking. ...
You brush yourself off
and you pull yourself
back together again."
American Federation of Teachers
the state take over its worst-performing schools. Another in Massachusetts
would have dramatically expanded
the presence of charter schools. And
they won on several funding ballot
measures in California, where affiliates spent more than $35 million in
campaign contributions this year. A
school funding measure in Maine-
proposed and funded with $500,000
from the NEA-also passed.
The unions have worked hard to
keep up with the pace of political
spending supercharged by the U.S.
Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United
v. Federal Election Commission ruling,
which eliminated restrictions on corporate and union spending in elections.
"What's happened since Citizens
United is the spigot of money has
been opened, and it's enabled lots of
toxic and negative advertising as opposed to what was the traditional getout-the-vote operations," Weingarten
said. "For us, what it's meant is that
you need to actually do a lot of work
and build a lot of your own campaign
But Mike Antonucci, a frequent
union critic, said that as much as
union officials begrudge outside
spending on local races, the NEA and
the AFT participate in the practice-
in their view, a defensive measure.
"Citizens United put them in the
same category as corporations, so now
they can spend an unlimited amount
of money as long as it's not coordinated
with campaigns," said Mike Antonucci, who runs a private, for-profit,
contract research firm focused on the
inner workings of the teachers' unions.
"On the one hand, they hate Citizens
United, but they said, 'As long as it's
the law, we're going to take advantage
of it and spend as much as we can.' "
In 2000, he noted, the NEA's Representative Assembly decided to issue
a $20 annual fee to its more than 3
million members to help defeat ballot measures and legislative priorities the union thinks aim to destroy
public education. By the start of this
campaign season, the union had $82
million in the fund, according to a
memo posted on its website.
"If you have $82 million in your
campaign war chest and you don't
spend it, members are going to start
asking why aren't you spending it,"
Picking Its Shots
A few specific races illustrate the
range of contests unions spent on, as
well as the local appetite.
In Indiana, the NEA contributed
$100,000 to the failed re-election
bid of Democratic state schools chief
Glenda Ritz and another $300,000 to
the losing Democratic gubernatorial
candidate, John Gregg. Both campaigned on returning decisionmaking power to local administrators,
loosening up the state's accountability system, and scrapping its troubled
The NEA affiliate in Indiana
has suffered a round of financial
setbacks in recent years, and lawmakers have made it a felony for
teachers to use their work emails to
campaign for candidates.
"The state government will do
everything in their power to put obstacles in our way," said Indiana NEA
affiliate President Teresa Meredith.
The NEA also pumped $600,000
into Kentucky to elect Democrats. A
battle to expand charter schools has
roiled the state for several years.
In the end, however, Democrats lost
more than 17 seats they controlled in
the Kentucky Senate.
Assistant Editor Alyson Klein contributed
to this article.
Education Department May Again Find Itself in GOP Cross Hairs
By Alyson Klein
Some Republicans have been trying to get rid of the U.S. Department of Education since President
Ronald Reagan took office in 1981,
when the agency was only about a
Now, with Republican Donald
Trump headed to
the White House
and the GOP still
in control of the
House and the
may have their best
chance yet to scrap-or at least seriously scale back-the Cabinet-level
agency created under President
Trump talked about eliminating
the Education Department on the
campaign trail or cutting it "way, way
down," but didn't offer details about
how he would do that, or what would
happen to key programs if he did
Still on the Table?
For now, it looks as if this idea remains on the table. Former Florida
and Virginia state schools chief Ge-
rard Robinson, who is now a fellow
at the American Enterprise Institute, said in an interview the day
after the election that he expects
that the new president will "streamline, at least" the Education Department. (Robinson is serving on the
Trump transition team, but spoke
only on his own behalf.)
Slimming down-or getting rid of-
the department wouldn't be a slam
dunk. Past attempts to eliminate it,
including under Reagan and another
in the mid-1990s, haven't gotten very
far. Both times, though, the administration and at least one house of
Congress were from different parties,
which won't be the case next year.
But even in the current Republican-dominated landscape, abolishing
the department would cost Trump
and his allies political capital that
they might rather spend elsewhere.
"That's a heavy lift, and there's
some Republicans that may not be
comfortable with that," said Vic Klatt,
a former aide to House Republicans
on the education committee, who is
now a principal at Penn Hill Group,
a government-relations organization in Washington. He thinks such
a proposal could get tripped up in the
Senate, which generally requires a
60-vote threshold to get past procedural hurdles.
And education advocates would
likely fight against getting rid of the
department. "We would actively oppose it," said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the
Great City Schools, in an interview.
"And I think there is enough of a coalition on Capitol Hill to make opposition to it a rather bipartisan issue."
What's more, Klatt said, the agency
itself may not be as paramount as the
programs that it operates.
"At the end of the day what matters most is not the structure, it's
the programs. I don't think the new
president has given any indication
that he's likely to get rid of the most
important programs," Klatt said,
which might include Title I grants
for districts or student loans.
Trump and his team may turn
first to funneling federal education
programs into broad block grants, essentially doubling down on the program consolidation that's already in
the new Every Student Succeeds Act,
said Lindsey Burke, a fellow at the
conservative Heritage Foundation.
"There are just dozens of niche programs that the department operates,"
she said. "And even though they have
not worked well for kids, there is a
constituency of adults throughout the
country who really agitate to maintain those programs." The new administration could start with consolidation and block-granting, and then
move toward "eliminating a lot of
the competitive-grant programs that
have accumulated over the years."
In particular, programs closely
associated with President Barack
Obama could find themselves on
the chopping block early in a Trump
administration. An example is the
Education Innovation and Research
program, or EIR. That's the successor to the Investing in Innovation
program, or i3,which helps school
districts scale up and test out promising practices. It's already slated for
elimination in a House spending bill.
Burke also suggested the Trump
administration could work with Congress to enact something along the
lines of the A-Plus Act, which would
allow states to opt out of a slew of
federal requirements while still getting federal funds. Rep. Mark Walker,
R-N.C., offered the legislation as an
amendment when ESSA passed in
2015. It didn't make it through the
GOP-controlled House, but now the
political context has changed.
At least one office within the Education Department could get a makeover under the Trump presidency: the
office for civil rights. The OCR has
been a hotbed of activity during the
Obama administration, with series
of guidance and investigations aimed
at ensuring that school districts meet
the needs of children from historically
Robinson said Trump and his
team would likely significantly curtail the office's role when it comes
to state and local policies, while ensuring that students rights' are not
If the OCR's role does shift in the
Trump administration, local civil
rights organizations may need to
step up, said Daria Hall, the interim vice president for government
affairs at the Education Trust, a research and advocacy organization.
"The one thing that's clear is that
the work of state and local equity advocates is now even more important,"
Staff Writer Denisa R. Superville
contributed to this article.
The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation supports coverage of policy, government and politics, and systems leadership in Education Week and on edweek.org. The Broad Foundations were established by entrepreneur and
philanthropist Eli Broad to advance entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science, and the arts. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - November 16, 2016
Education Week - November 16, 2016
Few Women Run School Districts. Why?
Trump’s Lesson Plan Awaited
A Day After Election, Classes Are Awash in Emotions
News in Brief
States Found to Offer 95 Kinds of Diplomas
Black Teachers Feel Pigeonholed On the Job, Report Says
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Eager to Innovate: African-American Teenagers and Technology
Positive Climates May Shrink Achievement Gaps
Q&A: ‘You Just Do the Work’
Proposed ESSA Spending Rules Encounter Stiff Resistance
Oklahoma Schools Chief Facing Campaign-Finance Charges
Sharp Questions Posed In Service-Dog Case
SNAPSHOT: Title IX and Transgender Students: Some Key Developments Over 44 Years
Governors and Schools Chiefs Results
Ed. Policy on Simmer as GOP Holds Congress
GOP Solidifies Hold on State-Level Leadership
State Ballot Measures
In Mass., Voters Shun More Charter Schools
Bilingual Education Set to Return to California Schools
Education Department May Again Find Itself in GOP Cross Hairs
Teachers’ Unions Spend Big, Mostly Fall Short in Elections
SUSAN MOORE JOHNSON: To Decentralize or Not? Is That Even the Question?
JIM HAAS: Oh, the Humanity!
GREGG WEINLEIN: The School Friendship Challenge
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
GARY BEACH: Does the U.S. Department of Education Need to Be Restructured?
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - A Day After Election, Classes Are Awash in Emotions
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 2
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 3
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - News in Brief
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Report Roundup
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - States Found to Offer 95 Kinds of Diplomas
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Black Teachers Feel Pigeonholed On the Job, Report Says
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Eager to Innovate: African-American Teenagers and Technology
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Positive Climates May Shrink Achievement Gaps
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 10
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 11
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Q&A: ‘You Just Do the Work’
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 13
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 14
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Oklahoma Schools Chief Facing Campaign-Finance Charges
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Sharp Questions Posed In Service-Dog Case
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - SNAPSHOT: Title IX and Transgender Students: Some Key Developments Over 44 Years
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - GOP Solidifies Hold on State-Level Leadership
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - State Ballot Measures
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Bilingual Education Set to Return to California Schools
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 21
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Teachers’ Unions Spend Big, Mostly Fall Short in Elections
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Senate/House Results
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - SUSAN MOORE JOHNSON: To Decentralize or Not? Is That Even the Question?
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - JIM HAAS: Oh, the Humanity!
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - GREGG WEINLEIN: The School Friendship Challenge
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - Letters
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 29
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 30
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - 31
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - GARY BEACH: Does the U.S. Department of Education Need to Be Restructured?
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW1
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW2
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW3
Education Week - November 16, 2016 - CW4